Carrol, in poetry workshops in which I participate every word in a poem is evaluated for its effectiveness. Close line reading is not unusual in literature classes or critical writing; New Criticism reinforced that practice. Assuming that a proportion of a poet's word choices are random would relieve poets and critics of their usual responsibility. How would we know which words in a poem were thrown in thoughtlessly and which were carefully considered? And if a critic failed to include certain words in an heuristic circle couldn't the poet be blamed for choosing his words carelessly, rather than the weakness of the critic's case? Diana

From:  Carrol Cox <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:  "T. S. Eliot Discussion forum." <[log in to unmask]>
To:  [log in to unmask]
Subject:  Word Choice Re: a Jeremiah sighting?
Date:  Tue, 10 Jul 2007 11:23:56 -0500
Mary McCarthy claimed of Lillian Hellman that every word she said was a
lie, including "the" and "a." That's carrying a focus on word choice to
its ultimate.  Of course _no one_ - not Dante, not Milton, not Flaubert
or Austen, not Pound or Eliot - _ever_ chooses every word carefully --
that way lies sheer lunacy, for either writer or reader.  And Eliot not
only recognizes this, he declares it finely in the phrase, "the
intolerable wrestle with words" in 4Q (quoted from memory). Donald Davie
has a fine passage on the Humpty-Dumpty theory of language in either
Articulate Energy or Purity of Diction, and grounds it in this passage
from 4Q. One can force language to one's will only so far, and then one
must recognize the resistance of language to being forced.

And that a poet chooses words carefully is not a principle that can help
the reader, for one cannot tell from the word or its immediate context
what the principle is that leads to the word choice. And that principle
varies from word to word, line to line, page to page within the same
work. Here the principle is syllable length, there it is nodding to a
controlling purpose of the work, someplace else it is the decorum of
speaker, so on and on. And principles will clash in given instances. The
work as a whole demands or suggests the correct word is "X," but decorum
of speaker forbids "X." And to use X here also would unfortunately link
this passage to passage Q, and the two passages do not link, for
thinking of X while reading or rereading Q will make nonsense of pasage

Texts are really complicated you know.


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